Education News

How Service Learning Teaches Students Hands-on Skills, Empathy

In schools around Houston, students are encouraged to volunteer and rack up community service hours. But at some schools, community service is an official graduation requirement and even integrated into the curriculum.

Teacher Matt Weaver sits down with several seniors here at North Houston Early College High School.

“Is this the same one that I saw earlier in the semester?”

“We’re adding stuff to it.”

Weaver gives them tips on how to improve their presentation. But it’s not a typical research project. It’s a community service project.

“Love and affection, grow as a person, How have you guys grown?”

BARC volunteer group
Students at North Houston Early College High School complete a service project as a senior capstone. This group is working with the city’s animal shelter.

“We’ve become more responsible and we’ve also learned that we have to do certain things at the same time, that we have to prioritize some things.”

Weaver says the entire senior class splits up into groups and then designs a service project.

“We focus a lot on heart, so they pick this project based upon they want to do this project throughout the whole year. So every group will be different. Some groups are working with animals.”

Like this group. They volunteer every Friday at the city of Houston’s animal shelter.

Other groups are working with cancer patients.

In fact, Jessica Miner and four friends are growing out their hair. Later in the year they will cut it all off and donate the hair to young adults with cancer.

Jessica’s been growing out her hair since ninth grade.

students will donate their hair to cancer patients and raise awareness about cancer
Students at North Houston Early College High School complete a service project as a senior capstone. This group will donate their hair to cancer patients and raise awareness about cancer.

“Gosh I’d say it reaches … almost hip length, yeah.”

Even the guys like 17-year-old Daniel Padron are skipping the barber.

“It’s also about as long as hers. It’s just that mine is a bit curly so it looks a bit shorter.”

For these projects, students work with a mentor in the community. During the year, they have to give multimedia presentations and write research papers.

Daniel says he’s getting more hands on experience here than a traditional class.

“We use something that we’re going to know for the rest of our lives, you know.”

“And what is that?”

“People skills and presentation skills — it’s important stuff that we need to know.”

This kind of service learning is a hallmark at early college high schools in the area.

At this North Houston campus, Principal Angela Lundy-Jackson says the projects help prepare students for college.

More importantly, she says, it broadens their perspective at a time when teenagers are inundated with social media that can be isolating and superficial.

Seniors Dolores Negrete and Cristian Perez are volunteering with sick children at the Ronald McDonald House as their senior service.

“And they tend to not have empathy for other people, they’re kind of apathetic, so you want them to learn that people have feelings and people are real and people have real problems, just like they do.”

Lundy-Jackson says students may not be very enthusiastic at the beginning of the school year. But then they get involved and their attitude changes.

Now senior Cristian Perez says the service project has become his favorite class.

“I really like this class. It helps me and it helps all of us to be better persons in life.”


Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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